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Risk Factors For Hearing Loss That May Shock You

Forty-eight million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Not surprisingly, hearing loss has many possible causes. Topping the list of culprits is frequent exposure to loud noise, aging, injury, infection, ototoxic drugs, and shingles. However, there are risk factors for hearing loss that may come as a surprise. Knowing these hidden risks can help you protect your hearing.

Sleep Apnea

People with sleep apnea are more at risk for hearing loss than others who do not have sleep apnea. The reason is a mystery. However, medical professionals think it is related to the reduction in blood supply to the inner ear, which is part of the condition. Of course, years of loud snoring can also damage hearing.

Excess Weight

As your body mass index (BMI) rises, so does the risk of hearing loss. A report on a study involving more than 64,000 women with a BMI between 30 and 34 shows a 17 percent higher risk of hearing loss. The good news is that women who walked more than two hours per week were 15 percent less likely to have hearing problems.

Alcohol

If you habitually drink excessive amounts of alcohol, you may need to worry about your hearing. Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages damages the central auditory cortex, which increases the amount of time it takes for your brain to process sound. Alcohol can cause balance problems due to alcohol absorption into the fluid of the inner ear.

Stress

Chronic stress can cause numerous health problems. Stress causes circulation problems which affect hearing. Acute stress forces oxygen to muscles so the body can move swiftly. This shunting of blood ultimately ends in hearing loss as the blood flow to the inner ear is limited.

Vaping

Nicotine, an addictive chemical that restricts blood flow to all parts of your body, is bad for your health. The chemical is also harmful to your hearing health because it restricts blood flow to your ears. Vaping with nicotine affects your hearing just like regular cigarettes. Leaving the nicotine out is not much better. Flavorings, colorings, and other additives added for flavor contain propylene glycol which may harm the ears.

Mumps

Mumps causes swelling of the salivary glands. In extreme cases, mumps can also lead to hearing loss. The common belief by the medical community is that mumps damages the cochlea. The cochlea contains stereocilia and the stria vacularis, which are both critical for proper hearing.

Iron Deficiency

A study suggests a relationship between iron deficiency and hearing loss. People with iron deficiency are twice as likely to have hearing loss than those without an iron deficiency. The mineral plays a vital role in keeping blood flowing to the cells of the inner ear, which process sound.
Your hearing health depends on being aware of the hazards in the home, at work, and in the environment. Being aware of these dangers, including the lesser-known risks, will help you protect your hearing. If you have any questions about hearing aids, smart hearing aids or about your personal experience with hearing loss, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Autumn Oak Speech, Voice & Hearing. We are happy to help!

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Depression: Greater Hearing Loss Shown to Increase Risk

In recent decades, experts have concluded that hearing loss is a much more complex health concern than we ever realized before. Sure, it affects communication, may require a little more planning for social outings and introduces us to hearing healthcare providers and all they can do, but it’s also linked to more pressing concerns. One of those connections is depression.
What is depression?
Depression is so much more than just feeling a little sad. It affects every aspect of your life, making it difficult to do even the most basic tasks from working to just getting out of bed. It is generally defined as “a mood disorder that causes distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.” Symptoms are present almost every day for at least two weeks.
There are several types of depression, but the two main types are:

  • Major Depression – this lasts at least two weeks; maybe a one-time event but generally happens more than once during the person’s lifetime.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder – this lasts for at least two years; there may be episodes of major depressions along with periods of less severe symptoms.

While you do not have to have hearing loss to develop depressive symptoms, researchers are finding that hearing loss puts you at a higher risk of developing depression.
The hearing loss depression connection
Several studies over recent years have confirmed a link between untreated hearing loss and depression. The most recent went one step further, finding that the greater the hearing loss, the higher the risk of having depressive symptoms.
The study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, analyzed health data from 5,239 individuals over age 50. Each person had both a hearing evaluation and depression screening.
The team found that those with mild hearing loss were nearly twice as likely to have symptoms of depression than those with normal hearing. Those with severe hearing loss were over four times as likely to have symptoms.
While the researchers confirmed that additional studies are needed to prove the link definitively, it is hard to deny that there does seem to be a connection.
How to prevent depression
Findings like these underline just how important it is to get regular hearing evaluations and treatment for hearing loss. Hearing aids may do more than just help you hear the world around you; they could help prevent depression.
If you’re treating your hearing loss but would like to do more to prevent developing depressive symptoms, tips like these can help:

  • Eat a nutritious and balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
  • Reduce stress
  • Include exercise in your daily routine
  • Follow good sleep hygiene practices for better sleep
  • Maintain relationships with friends and family

If you believe you may be experiencing signs of depression, contact your physician or trusted health professional to get help. If you have any questions about hearing aids, smart hearing aids or about your personal experience with hearing loss, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Autumn Oak Speech, Voice & Hearing. We are happy to help!

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Independent Living for Those with Hearing Loss

For someone who lives with the day-to-day struggles of hearing loss, retaining or regaining some semblance of independence is very important and but can seem a bit intimidating. Whether you’ve lived with a reduced hearing most of your life or are newly diagnosed, there are options that could help you to be more self-sufficient and safer.
Thanks to the amazing advancements in technology today, the markets are booming with apps and devices that can help you live your daily life with much more ease. From waking up each morning to responding to danger there are now options that could fit into your search for independence seamlessly.

In Case of Emergencies

Should the unfortunate happen, and an emergency occurs, you could have just minutes to react. Without the proper equipment, there could be dire consequences. There are options available to notify you right in your own home of these situations. With the aid of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or FM systems there is no reason to go without this essential protection.
In the event of a fire, smoke, or carbon monoxide danger, there are devices that will emit a powerful photoelectric light strobe to catch your attention as it alarms. There are also several models that have a shaker pad that can be placed under the cushions of your favorite chair or bed mattress to alert you while you sleep.
In addition, the shaker devices can alert you with a digital readout on the programming display that states “FIRE”. While most should be installed by a licensed fire alarm company, they are well worth the expense of knowing you will be alerted at the first sign of smoke.
These devices may be sold as separate units or be combined in one. Some models are designed to discern the higher pitch of an existing device and go off with its own tone, much lower and louder pitched that is more apt to wake someone with hearing loss.
Weather alerts are another tricky road to navigate for the hearing impaired. The threat of dangerous storms such as tornados, hurricanes, or thunderstorms can make independent living an unnerving experience. But missing the emergency weather alerts is a needless worry these days with all the amazing things available.
For those who don’t watch TV or keep the radio on, weather alerts can go unnoticed. The rumble of thunder and crack of lightning can too. Radios designed for special weather alerting can work with bed shaking devices or strobe lights if these devices fit into your lifestyle. They can alert someone who is alone in the home or even asleep of the need to seek shelter or evacuate.
Some models have both a light and a display. While a warning light appears, it’s then followed by a readout on the display that says what the emergency is like “Tornado”.

Communication

Communication is another area that might cause some distress for those with reduced hearing or deafness working to achieve an independent lifestyle. Questions abound for people in this situation

  • How will I know when it’s time to wake up?
  • How will I know if I have a visitor?
  • How will I contact help in an emergency?
  • Will I know if the phone is ringing
  • Will I hear the baby cry?

With today’s advancements in technology, these questions are no longer a problem and there are devices available to answer each one. Devices to alert people come with different functions such as a visual flashing light, the vibrotactile which provides a vibration pad that can be used in sleeping or sitting areas, and auditory alerts that use a lower frequency and higher amplification.
There are alarm clocks specially designed for the hearing impaired.  These come in a multitude of different styles. From a lamp that comes on to wake you up, to strobe lights, and on to bed shakers for those that really sleep soundly.
Doorbell alerts are also available to signal that someone is at your door. These work whether there is an existing bell system or not. These can be found with a strobe light system that can connect to your phone or even to a different phone with a specific receiver for this purpose. Some models work like a security system that allows you to see who is at your door via a small visual monitoring screen.
They can also alert you when a door or window has been opened within your home so this doubles as an excellent safety alert system too. Viewing devices can be placed around the home for visual monitoring of doors or windows or even external buildings.
For home phone calls, special signalers can be attached to the side of a phone or be plugged into both the outlet and phone lines. This device directly picks up the sound which triggers the alert. Captioning devices can help by translating conversations into text on a large screen. This is also an excellent device when making calls or in an emergency situation to ensure there is no miscommunication.
For those with cell phones, there are many options or apps out there for the adaptation of these devices as well. Bracelets and smart watches can be linked to cell phones that will vibrate or flash to alert the wearer when a call is coming in. They can also flash the phone number and caller ID to let them know who the call is coming from.
For parents living with hearing loss, having small children can be challenging. Many fear they won’t know when their baby cries. Those fears can be put to rest with specifically designed transmitters and receivers that pick up on their crying and send an alert to a central system. This system then alerts the parent by audio, video, and vibration signals.
With all the devices and apps available today, there are so many options to make independent living a possibility for those with hearing loss. Be sure to talk to your audiologist about the possibilities for improving the living situation of you or someone you love. If you have any questions about hearing aids, smart hearing aids or about your personal experience with hearing loss, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Autumn Oak Speech, Voice & Hearing. We are happy to help!

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The Ins and Outs of Hearing Aids

The evolution of technology has done amazing things with hearing aids over the years. Many of the devices manufactured today are incredibly advanced, hooking seamlessly to Bluetooth technology, streaming GPS from your phone, or even linking to a hearing loop at a theater or events center.
No matter what model hearing device you have, it’s a good idea to spend some time learning about the various features and parts that are involved in case you encounter a problem. There are two common types of hearing aids on the market. In-the-ear (ITE) and Behind-the-ear (BTE), both of which are broken down into various styles.
Common parts are shared amongst most of the styles, with all models having:

  • Microphone (collects sound waves and relays them to the amplifier)
  • Amplifier (transforms sounds into electrical signals then sends them to the receiver/speaker)
  • Wire (transmits power and signal from the body of device to the speaker)
  • Power source (battery maybe disposable or rechargeable)
  • Receiver/speaker (typically located within a dome or earmold inside the ear canal)
  • Switch/button (depending on size and style, this might change programs, settings, or volume)

In-the-Ear

Described appropriately, this type of hearing aid is worn inside the ear canal. More customizable to the individual patient, your hearing professional will take an impression, likely during the initial consultation. Different styles of ITE hearing aids fit deeper inside the ear canal, though there are some that sit closer to the outer ear and are available in assorted skin tone colors.
Invisible in the canal (IIC) and Completely in the canal (CIC) devices are pretty much invisible to those around you. Even upon close inspection they are often unable to be detected. Placed deep within the ear canal, these tiny instruments can be removed by gently pulling on a small string that is attached to it.
Initially many are unsure about this, but after a short period of becoming acclimated they are pleased with the ease of use and the anonymity of use. Advantages are:

  • Sound quality due to fit within the ear
  • Very discreetly hidden

Some disadvantages are:

  • Due to the small size, they can be difficult for people with dexterity issues
  • The small size can also hinder wireless connectivity, for example with cell phones
  • They are more prone to damage due to moisture and ear wax buildup

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids utilize more of the outer, lower portion of the ear canal. This sets them out a bit farther and allow more usability for people who experience problems operating smaller instruments. Since they are slightly larger than their IIC and CIC counterparts, they are known to have a longer battery life and can work for a broader variety of hearing difficulties.
Still discreet, they offer an extended range of features as well, such as manual controls for volume adjustment and directional microphones. These allow for better reception in loud environments like sporting events, restaurants, or at concerts. Advantages include:

  • Additional features and a longer battery life than IIC and CIC models
  • Discreet

Though slightly different than IIC and CIC models, they share similar disadvantages such as:

  • The small size can also hinder wireless connectivity, for example with cell phones
  • They are more prone to damage due to moisture and ear wax buildup
  • Due to more of the ear being occupied, the wearer may experience a more plugged feeling

Low profile hearing aids fall within the ITC style though they vary from full-shell designs that fill most of the outer ear bowl area to half-shell which fills a portion of the ear bowl. These models are designed a bit larger and allow for features such as manual controls for volume as well as the ability to change programs with the push of a button in addition to directional microphones.
Some advantages of this model:

  • Allows for more features
  • Additional user controls
  • Larger size makes insertion and removal easier
  • Better connectivity with wireless devices

Disadvantages are:

  • Larger size makes it less discreet
  • Due to more of the ear being occupied, the wearer may experience a more plugged feeling

Behind-the-Ear

Normally referred to as receiver in the ear (RITE), receiver-in-ear (RIE), or receiver in canal (RIC) this type of hearing device has an open-fitting design with the speaker made to be inserted into the canal via an ear dome, rather than the main part of the hearing aid.
With the speaker inserted into the ear canal, the main brains of the device sit behind the hear in a very small box that houses the microphone, amplifier, a power source, and potentially a telecoil. The telecoil has become quite common on most hearing aids within the past 50 years. The small copper coils work in combination with a hearing loop to offer the wearer a significantly greater experience in areas where available such as event centers, airports, courtrooms, and medical offices as well as many other public areas.
The speaker located within the ear canal is connected to the transmitter with a small, thin wire. This type of technology offers a quality of sound that is more advanced and is available from most major manufacturers of hearing aids.
As with all these options, no one type, or style is right for everyone. Seek the assistance and advice of a hearing health professional if you’re considering purchasing hearing aids. Have them run through all the benefits and features of each part so you’re aware of the pros and cons and can make an educated decision.
If you already wear hearing aids, do yourself a favor and become familiar with the different parts that make them work. You’ll be better able to troubleshoot any problems you encounter, or you’ll be in a better position to explain to your hearing aid specialist if you’re having issues.

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Protect Your Hearing Aids This Winter

Temperatures are dropping, and storms are becoming more frequent in many parts of the country as we dig deeper into fall on the way to Winter’s freeze. For many, these changes bring to mind snow tires and scarves, hot chocolate and cozy socks to combat the cold days. If you use hearing aids, you’ll also want to take steps to protect them from the colder temperatures and changes in weather.
Protect your hearing health investment
If you have hearing aids, you’ve made a smart investment in your hearing health. Chances are you got started with a hearing evaluation then worked with your hearing healthcare provider to select the best hearing aids for your needs.
From there, you probably went through fittings and one or more adjustments to get them working just right for your unique hearing loss. Finally, you learned how to clean and maintain them. You have probably spent time each day removing and drying them, replacing batteries and cleaning them to prevent wear and tear and lengthen their life, even taking them in for professional cleanings once or twice a year. All of this to protect your investment.
During the year, however, you’ll want to take extra steps to keep your hearing aids humming along in top shape. That includes during these colder winter months when the elements can take a toll.
Winter considerations for hearing aids
During colder fall and winter months, keep these things in mind when it comes to your hearing aids:

  • Keep the stormy weather out – Moisture from the elements is a big concern this time of year. It can damage the inner workings of the hearing aid reducing its effectiveness. Moisture from rain and snow can also affect the battery and reduce its life. Carry umbrellas, wear rain and snow jackets with hoods or a protective hat and use similar protection from the elements.
  • Be aware of condensation – Going from the cold of the outdoors to the warmth of inside can create condensation inside your hearing aids that leads to damaged connections and hearing aid batteries. This is especially true when you are moving between the temperature extremes repeatedly during the day.
  • Protect against sweat – shoveling snow, covering ears with a hat or earmuffs, and even winter sports can leave you a little sweaty even in sub-freezing temperatures. When this sweat seeps into hearing aids, it can be just as damaging as the snow and rain. Consider wearing a hearing aid “sweatband” or even removing hearing aids during strenuous activity.

Winter hearing aid worries often revolve around moisture and its damaging effects on the devices and their batteries. To help minimize damage and protect hearing aids, remove and open them whenever they’re not in use to allow extra moisture to escape. When you are away from home, do carry a small cleaning toolkit and extra hearing aid batteries if your batteries do become a victim of the elements.
Are you looking for more information on how to protect hearing aids during the winter months? Contact our office for tips and advice.